In addition to the widely known starvation eating disorder anorexia, there are four other abnormal eating behaviors that may require medical treatment. While these are not yet considered official medical diagnoses, those suffering may not realize how serious the consequences of their behavior can be.
ESSENCE.com talked with Bonnie Brennan, Senior Clinical Director of Adult Residential and Partial Hospital Services Eating Recovery Center, to get the lowdown on these disorders, how to spot them and how to deal.
What it is: Drunkorexia refers to the behaviors of restricting food intake in preparation for a night of drinking, Brennan says. “Alcohol has a large amount of calories and this behavior can develop in order to prevent weight gain from alcohol. Many college students begin this out of fear of “the freshman 15.”
Why it’s Unhealthy: Drinking on an empty stomach or when you’re dehydrated quickens intoxication and can lead to alcohol poisoning, black outs, fainting, vomiting, etc. According to Brennan, if done repeatedly, there can be effects on the gastrointestinal track.
Signs You May Be Suffering: “Look for a repeated pattern of food restriction followed by drinking,” she says. In addition, purposely skipping meals, drinking before eating and eating very little after a night out may also be signs.
What it is: Orthorexia, a term coined in the late 90s by Steven Bratman, MD, literally refers to “correct appetite.” People who struggle with orthorexia have a belief that certain foods are better or healthier than others and seek to achieve health and well-being through following a prescribed pattern of “healthy” eating.
Why it’s Unhealthy: When a person starts restricting food groups and types, this will have a direct effect on how the body is able to take in the nutrients it needs. When an individual is nutritionally deprived and they have lost a significant amount of weight, cognitive deficits and increased anxiety can occur and sometimes even psychosis, Brennan says.
Signs You May Be Suffering: “While many of us strive to eat healthy, the person with orthorexia becomes more and more rigid and compulsive about their food choices and may eliminate entire food groups or have a very limited repertoire of “safe” foods,” she says. They often are fearful of eating out and will decline social invitations and may only feel safe shopping in one type of food store—going to extremes to ensure their food is prepared with “healthy” ingredients.
What it is: Preparing for a wedding is enormously stressful for some. According to Brennan brideorexia develops from a common desire to lose weight in anticipation of the big day. While she notes that some weight loss is fine, brideorexics attempt to lose an extreme amount of weight or expect considerable weight loss in a short amount of time—and may go through desperate means to achieve this goal.
Why it’s Unhealthy: Not only can this behavior be stressful on the body and mind, but over focusing on how your body will look in your gown can take away from the actual meaning of the day. Plus using diet pills, laxatives and other pharmaceuticals may have detrimental effects on the body and lead to dehydration, fainting, heart irregularities and addictions.
Signs You May Be Suffering: Crash dieting, fasting, large amounts of diet pills the mood fluctuations and irritability. Another sign would be purposely buying a wedding dress several sizes too small in anticipation of “having to lose weight” in order to fit into the dress.
What it is: Women with pregorexia, become consumed with not wanting to gain too much pregnancy weight and how to quickly get rid of it. They restrict food, over exercise and may resort to purging and other means to “undo” the extra calories they take in.
Why it’s Unhealthy: Restricting food intake or exercising excessively during pregnancy is super risky, according to Brennan. The fetus may not develop properly without the proper nutrients and may have difficulty thriving outside the womb. There’s also a risk for miscarriage or early delivery with this behavior and the stress of worrying may trigger more serious eating disorders or mood disorders like depression.
Signs You May Be Suffering: Worrying about counting calories, restricting your food intake, stressing about going to prenatal visits, getting on the scale constantly or exercising despite warnings from professionals are all signs of suffering.
Note: Not all women who worry about pregnancy weight gain are pregorexic.
What to do if you or someone you know is suffering from one of these behaviors:
Early prevention is the best way to avoid the development of a more serious eating disorder. “It is important to seek help from a professional who specializes in eating disorders and substance use,” Brennan says. “Depending on how long the individual has been using these behaviors, their medical needs may need to be addressed in a hospital setting or with the support of a residential level of care. Others may benefit from lower levels of care, such as outpatient therapy to address the struggles in their life that may be leading them to continue this unhealthy behavioral pattern.”